The BC NDP celebrated being the first jurisdiction to get the federal government to decriminalize small amounts of illicit substances.
Open drug use in public spaces is ABSOLUTELY a problem, but it is not THE problem, it is a symptom of the problem.
Addiction is a health issue not a criminal justice issue and we will not be successful arresting our way out of the crisis.
The BC NDP government only did part of the job before they started celebrating themselves. Decriminalization needs to be matched with safe housing options, robust, regulated, free addiction treatment services, and safe consumption sites in every community in the province. Despite spending hundreds of millions on mental health and addictions, the programs and services are not available in most communities.
The result of the BC NDP failing to deliver the addictions programs and services we need, is they have failed to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities and made them targets of displacement and further stigma.
Additionally, the BC NDP have pushed the political pressure of their policy and program failure, back onto frontline police and bylaw officers, who have no access to the resources to support the people they are engaging with.
This bill will only move people out of the line of sight, so that British Columbians won’t have to experience the direct discomfort created by the provincial government’s inability to properly address the public health emergency that has taken thousands of lives since 2016.
I rise to speak to Bill 34, the Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act.
I just want to frame my comments using a motion that was tabled by the Government House Leader: “That, consistent with the Report of the Select Standing Committee on Health intituled Closing Gaps, Reducing Barriers, this House affirm its support for a spectrum of addictions care, such as life-saving harm reduction measures — including safe consumption sites, decriminalization and safer supply — and for a rapid, unprecedented expansion of drug treatment and recovery spaces.”
That is the intention of this government. Unfortunately, that’s not what we’ve seen be delivered. So here we are debating this bill, Bill 34, the Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act. I just want to read, also, a couple of comments that were made by my colleague yesterday in a news release that we put out, because I think that it frames the context with which we approach this.
I just want to read, also, a couple of comments that were made by my colleague yesterday in a news release that we put out, because I think that it frames the context with which we approach this.
“If we want to achieve a true sense of public safety, we cannot adopt an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. British Columbia is capable of implementing evidence-based solutions and must do so immediately.”
It makes supporting this bill very difficult when the necessary and evidence-based services are not in place. Safe consumption sites are not in place. Funding for communities to help their residents with living and support — inadequate. A lack of support for regulated treatment centres.
I’m sad that this government, my B.C. NDP colleagues, have fallen into the trap that has been set by some extremist fearmongers, these new politics, these new conservative politics. The health and well-being of our friends and relatives, our neighbours, our children, our nieces and nephews, our grandchildren are being used as leverage for politicians for the pursuit of their own power.
The most vulnerable people in our society, those stricken with a terrible affliction, a health crisis, are being preyed upon by the privileged for their own selfish gains. It’s disturbing. It’s sickening.
Nobody wants to see what we’re seeing in our society. Open drug use is absolutely a problem, but it’s not the problem. It’s a symptom of the problem, and we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. The goal of the decriminalization pilot is to ensure that the treatment plan for a health crisis is not delivered by the criminal justice system. Turning sick people into criminals makes no sense. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and money, yet that is what we’ve been doing.
This is not a soft-on-crime approach. Unfortunately, what we’ve been seeing is a soft-on-health-care approach. Decriminalization alone does not work. It needs to be done in concert with the ramping up of regulated free treatment services. It needs to be supported with safe consumption sites in every city, town and village, supported with treatment services.
It needs to be done alongside the provision of a safe place for people to live, places for people to sleep without the threat of being assaulted. Programs that offer a supportive community to help people through their most challenging moments. Our local government colleagues have found solutions like The Village project in Duncan, a project that needs a reliable provincial partner.
Instead of delivering a compassionate and comprehensive response, this B.C. NDP government decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs and then, frankly, took a rhetorical victory lap. What they did was expose the most vulnerable people to a political movement that appears to have no issue with attacking them.
Now, we see…. Have we lost our humanity and our dignity? Now, this B.C. NDP government, whose intentions were good, have failed to deliver the comprehensive programming that’s necessary. I’ve spoken about the negative impact of stigma of people who use, abuse and suffer from drug addiction. It was a pathway, as I’ve been very public about, that I narrowly escaped.
As a result of this B.C. NDP government’s inability to deliver the coordinated plan that they’ve been promising, it appears from the outside that there are a few key members in cabinet that are not on board with this compassionate response. The result is that with this bill, we’re taking major steps backward in the destigmatization of people who use, abuse and are addicted to illicit substances.
The result is that this bill has the potential of making this situation worse. While this government celebrated the decriminalization pilot, they were telling British Columbians about the record investments they were making in mental health and addictions services and supports. It turns out they made better sound bites than actually improving the response to this public health emergency, which has been ongoing, in which more than 11,000 or 12,000 British Columbians have perished.
As my colleague pointed out, there is one thing that our Crown governments are good at: segregating undesirable classes of people, dispossessing them of the place they belong and stigmatizing them for political purposes. My Indigenous relatives are more likely to be impoverished, more likely to be homeless, more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to die from illicit drug poisoning and more likely to be impacted by the changes in this bill. Rather than ramping up access to housing and other social services to support people through their health crisis, this government has succumbed to the political pressure and are doing just what Crown governments and politicians have been doing since the beginning of this country and this province, pushing marginalized people further into the darkness.
To those who oppose the initiative of decriminalization feel that this bill is going to solve the problem…. This bill relieves the pressure building on politicians from doing their job, and it pushes the pressure back into the discretionary hands of police and bylaw officers.
The minister suggests that our front-line public safety people will encourage people to go and use a safe consumption site. As my colleague clearly outlined yesterday, it appears that the Minister of Public Safety has not made it out of the Lower Mainland recently, because he should know that what he offers as a solution is not a solution for most of the communities in British Columbia. For most of the geographic area of British Columbia, what he is offering is not a solution. He should be informed that his colleague the Minister of Health has not provided the safe consumption sites in a vast majority of those cities, towns and villages. And I think this government needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves whether further marginalizing the most vulnerable people in our society is something that they can celebrate.
The people who we are talking about have literally nowhere else to go. The members of this B.C. NDP government need to ask themselves if, when they signed up with that political party, they believed that they would be doing anything other than delivering the social services that people need and the social services that they’ve been claiming are going to be delivered with the record spending that’s going to be happening that communities, communities in my riding, have no access to.
There’s seemingly no way to get a hold of the money that is being spent. We have tried multiple times through multiple iterations of the Mental Health and Addictions Ministry to get access to the front-line community services that my communities need, communities like Saltspring Island, in a complete bureaucratic vacuum. Yet I hear on a daily basis in here, or on a regular basis in here: “Now, don’t worry. We’re spending more money than we’ve ever spent before.” Money that apparently is going somewhere, but we can’t tell where it is because the volunteer community support people, the people with lived experiences who are there to support folks, they’re not getting the funding that they need to do their good work.
Pushing this issue back into the darkness will not solve it, but it may give some in our society who cannot afford to see it, cannot bear to see it, some comfort. However, this bill has the potential to cost people their lives, further add pressure on front-line public safety and paramedic first responders.
This B.C. NDP government’s response has been incoherent and fragmented, and it is costing them the success of the projects that they have celebrated, like the decriminalization pilot. And by walking it back and bringing in this bill, they are feeding a dangerous political narrative in the process. And until this government delivers on that promise, they are increasing insecurity for the most vulnerable people in our society.
This bill doesn’t help fix the situation. It makes it worse.